Many a moon ago I had a story idea. I doodled my thoughts. Wrote down snippets and sketched out characters. It took me years before I went from thinking about Naila and her life to finally summoning the courage to put her story down in writing.
And yes, I use the word courage because it wasn’t easy.
There were many second guesses. Sure I had written memos and briefs galore for law school and yes I wrote for some newspapers and magazines but this was undertaking a work of fiction. A novel. Did I have the stamina and the determination to write a full length novel…. did I have the ability?
I think it was the ability part that frightened me most because the thing is: first drafts are ugly. I don’t mean it in some abstract sense. I mean- they are just hideous things. I didn’t realize this at first. When the story was first coming to me fast and furious from my heart to the screen, it felt like a thrill. A rush. I was excited and ready to do the happy dance as the words laced together before me. Yes, I was quite pleased with myself.
But once I finished that first draft. Once I finally gave myself some space and revisted the words that had flowed from my soul. I looked at them and thought:
Any writer will tell you this is normal [except one “Bobullah” who smirked and said he had no idea what I was talking about as words flowed from him like a spring in the desert–which OK– he is, I suppose, the grand exception to the norm].
For the rest of us writer folks, first drafts are awful. Even Ernest Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is shit. But knowing that doesn’t really help any when you’re toiling away on weekends and evenings and all you have to show for it is something you want to print out of your computer just so you can cast it into a fireplace and watch the hideousness burn burn burn.
And it’s likely I would have done just that. It’s likely this book would have stayed in my mind’s eye or simply as a word document staring back at me at a computer screen or kindling for a melancholy flame, but there’s a huge reason that didn’t happen: Tracy Lopez.
Tracy has been my friend forever and she happened to be an amazing writer. She was contemplating a novel and so we agreed to write and trade and read and be honest. We weren’t seeking unabashed adoration but a critical read through with feedback relayed respectfully.
Over the years with many pieces of fiction between the two of us we sent chapters or full manuscripts, we wrote notes and comments, and lived each other stories closer than anyone else. Tracy read my query letters, she helped tweak my synopsis. She told me when something was working.
And she told me when I needed to go back to the drawing board.
And now, as I brainstorm and draft my third and fourth novels, she’s reading them too and critiquing them along the way. I read somewhere that a writing/critique partner is critical for any writer and while I can’t speak for all writers I cannot imagine writing any of my books past, present, and future without Tracy’s trusted advice. Stephen King said it’s important to write your book for one person, imagining them as their audience and my audience of one when I write my novels always was and remains Tracy.
One of the most frequently asked questions I get lately relate to advice on writing. How to plow through and get the thing written. The biggest thing I can tell you is to find a writing partner:
- Who is also writing: The funnest part of this is writing for someone and knowing you also will in return be reading their writing. Not only is this fun though it teaches you a lot about your own work to critique and edit someone else.
- Who will tell you the truth: It’s tempting to hear that your work is the most beautiful thing ever and absolutely perfect, but if your writing partner says this about your first draft, unless you are Bobullah, it’s likely not the full story. You need to hear the truth because you want to make your draft the best manuscript it can be and the only way to do that is to hear how you can improve it.
- Who will share that truth gently: They can’t just go through your post red-lining it. That HURTS. Ask your writing partner to share what they loved and also to share what could be improved [instead of what sucks].
- Who is reliable: A novel is a long and complex undertaking so make sure to pick a writing partner who will be willing to stick with you for the long haul.
- Who is trustworthy: It’s such a fragile time writing that first draft. You want to know that your story will stay with them and not shared with anyone else. You want to know that they will honor that confidentiality just as you will do for them.
I’m thankful for my writing partner who fills all the above criterion and more and after all the back and forths of chapters and paragraphs, it brings me no small measure of joy to see the galley of Written in the Stars resting on her bookshelf next to books we both read on our writing journeys.
Hope this was helpful! I’m hoping to share stories and advice from my writing journey here. If you find it helpful please let me know and I will try to make this a regular feature. If there is anything in particular you are wondering about, please also share as I compile future posts on the writing journey.